There have been precious few occasions this season in which pre-match expectations have played out exactly as planned, at least as far as Arsenal are concerned.
Typically, the Gunners have tended to defy all expectation – and logic – by producing woefully inept or unexplainably insipid performances when all indications pointed towards something much better.
When Manchester United came to town on Sunday however, the performance was broadly in line with what was expected, which, in and of itself, was incredibly unexpected.
Jose Mourinho made no secret of his plans to rest some players ahead of a Europa League clash next week, while there was never any doubting that he would put all 11 men behind the ball at every opportunity, in a bid to stifle Arsenal.
Some suggested that the Portuguese was merely playing mind games and had a trick up his sleeve ready for an unsuspecting Arsene Wenger, to whom he had never lost a competitive fixture.
But no, he wasn’t playing mind games and he really did not have any tricks up his sleeve. Good.
Notwithstanding the fact that his so-called B team cost in excess of £220million – or so reports have claimed, United were sluggish, disinterested and, frankly, had little intention of trying to win the game.
We did our best, on occasion, to gift them opportunities to take something from the fixture but, in the end, it was our greater desire and persistence that made the difference, and we claimed what was a deserved victory.
I accept that there was a whiff of fortune about Granit Xhaka’s opening goal but it is hardly his fault that the United defence opened up before him, inviting the shot, nor that Ander Herrera turned his back on the ball, leaving himself open to the sort of deflection that he ultimately caused.
Fortunate or not, if you don’t attack, you’re not going to score and Arsenal cannot be faulted for having a go, despite United’s best attempts to snuff this game out.
And while our hopes of sneaking into the Champions League places are, at best, tenuous, our fight goes on for at least another few days with the victory, our third in four league matches, which makes for much more pleasant reading.
We still rely on others to drop points in order to open the door for us, just as we also need to win all four of our remaining matches, but this win keeps our hopes alive, hopefully keeps the players motivated, and gives them a chance to build a little precious momentum ahead of our season-ending cup final, on May 27.
Reasons to be cheerful
Without a shadow of a doubt, this was the Welshamn’s performance of the season. The movement, the work rate, the tackling; it was like something out of the 2013/14 play book and it was a joy to watch.
While he still lacked the sort of killer instinct and sharpness in possession that made him a revelation in that season, he was at last doing the sort of things that made that period so memorable.
He, among a few others, has benefited greatly from the switch to 3-4-3, or 3-5-2, whichever way you look at it, because it has allowed him a bit more of the sort of freedom he enjoyed in seasons gone by, a freedom that was denied him earlier in the year by worries with the defence and how exposed it often became.
So while he has come in for a fair amount of stick this season, all credit must go to Aaron for having an excellent game, which only wanted for a goal.
While the veteran keeper was never under the kosh from a largely lifeless United front line, he was called upon on several occasions to produce important saves and, just as he did at White Hart Lane, he did so superbly.
I think in particular of the one-on-one opportunity he saved after Rob Holding and Laurent Koscielney opened the door at the back with a pig-ugly mix up just yards from goal. The Czech was brought in to make big saves in the big games and did just that today.
What more can be said about the young Englishman that has not already?
He is performing at a level far in excess of what you would expect from someone of his age and experience and he grows in stature with every match. It is still very early days, and important not to get carried away with someone so young, but, with a bit of luck and a good deal of hard work, he will likely be a top centre back, who will be at the heart of the club for a long while to come. Aside from his gaffe which almost handed United an ill-deserved goal, he was commanding at the back and matched Koscielney tackle for tackle. Let’s hope he can stay fit and focused in the weeks ahead, because lord knows we will need him.